Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

Wheeler Wildlife Refuge at Dawn
Photo by: Clarkbhr, Creative Commons

The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur is a 35,000 acre National Wildlife Refuge located along the Tennessee River between Huntsville and Decatur, Alabama. It was established via executive order by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 and is named after Major General Joseph Wheeler, a military commander and an Alabama representative.

This Refuge is a sanctuary to wintering and migratory birds in the eastern United States and is also the home to the state’s largest duck population, all due to a mix of habitat types like bottomland hardwoods, wetlands, pine uplands, agricultural fields, and backwater embayments.

Besides birds, it is also home to 115 species of fish, 74 species of reptiles and amphibians, 47 species of mammals, and 285 different species of songbirds; with some of those species listed as endangered or threatened. Some of the unique species found in the Refuge are the Southern James Bay Canada goose and the red-tailed hawk. The Refuge is indeed a paradise for animal lovers who want a break from the fast-growing city of Madison, Alabama.

The Refuge offers opportunities for hunting, hiking, fishing, boating, and wildlife observation. Fishing is a popular activity there, drawing 200,000 visitors a year. Public hunting is permitted in places that accumulate to half of the total area. It also has five hiking trails, boat launch areas that let you access the Tennessee River, and a visitor center for bird watching. Five annual events are held from March to October.

The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge can be found at 2700 Refuge Headquarters Road, Decatur, AL 35603. It is about 80 miles north of Birmingham and 30 miles west of Huntsville. To get to the Refuge from Interstate 65, take Exit 334. Afterwards, go west on Highway 67. The visitor center is 2 miles on the left and the Refuge headquarters is 2.5 miles on the right.

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